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Despite disability, Ben Jackson found his home on the wrestling mat



As Ben Jackson walks the campus of Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA he might appear to be the common college student. There is one thing, however, that sets Ben apart from the rest of the normal college crowd.

Ben was born with cerebral palsy, a severe neurological and nervous system disorder.

Since his birth, Ben has been battling this disease, constantly overcoming daily challenges that might seem easy to the average person, such as walking and speaking. Ben faces his disability on a daily basis, but he has found a home in a most unusual place, the wrestling mat.

In the 8th grade Ben accepted a challenge from his physical education teacher to join the wrestling team, which he did.

In the beginning Ben struggled with the physical rigor that wrestling requires, but as he has always done, Ben accepted the challenge.

“It was very new to me. It was very physical to me, and I liked it because it made me mentally and physically strong,” Jackson said. “In all my years of physical therapy, I never had a challenge like in the wrestling room.”

The first year of wrestling for Ben did not yield much success in terms of wins and losses. Ben lost every match he wrestled that season. When most would have given up, Ben used his struggles on the wrestling mat as fuel to train harder.

“I have always been committed to working harder that the next guy, even if that meant for me to do 20 more pushups than the next guy, I was always willing to do it and go the extra mile,” Jackson said.

Heading into high school at Pocono Mountain West, all Ben wanted to do was win a wrestling match.

In the 9th grade, Ben’s first season of high school wrestling something special happened, he left the wrestling mat having his hand raised and being declared a winner. But to his team, Ben was already a winner.

“Over the years as he got into high school he just grew on everybody. He was the life of the team,” said Gregory Theony, Head Wrestling Coach at Pocono Mountain West High School. “He never took time off. He never took a break even when he probably needed one, and the guys appreciated that.”

After earning his fist victory Ben set a goal of winning more matches each year than he did the last. Ben won a total of seven matches his senior year in high school, including one victory by technical fall.

Ben went on to win multiple awards for his courageous efforts, including being voted the best male athlete for Pocono Mountain West High School his senior year. Ben even had an award named after him, the Ben Jackson Courage Award, to be given out at Pocono Mountain West’s end of the year wrestling banquet.

While currently attending college classes, Ben now has a bigger goal in mind.

During last summer’s Olympic Games held in London, Ben saw a commercial for the Paralympic Games and was instantly inspired. Ben thought to himself, “If I can make this much of an impact on this community, then imagine what I can do if I take my story out to the world.”

Ben contacted U.S. Paralympics and found that wrestling is not a Paralympic sport. That did not stop Ben Jackson, who is now aiming to compete in the 2016 Paralympic games in weightlifting, once he finds the proper coach to help him along the way.

The dream does not stop there. He also wants to be an ambassador for the sport of wrestling and make a push for wrestling to be a Paralympic sport.

“Wrestling teaches so many life lessons. Most importantly, it teaches you work ethic, and if you can learn work ethic at the right age, or be presented with a challenge like I was, it can potentially save your life, or change your life for the better,” Jackson said.

To Ben Jackson wrestling is so much more than a high school activity. It was his safe haven, a place where he belonged.

“The moment I run on the mat everything disappears. For those six minutes it gives me a sensation that I have yet to feel anywhere else. For me wrestling was a huge relief,” Jackson said.

The college that Ben attends does not have a wrestling program, but Ben still makes trips back to his old high school to be a mentor to the wrestlers on the team, as well as get that special feeling of being on the mat back for a couple of hours.

“The guys love it when he comes back. The room is different when he is there,” Coach Theony said. “What makes him special is his overall attitude. He is the most positive person you will ever meet. As bad as the situation looks and as tired as he ever was, he always managed to smile and grit his teeth through it.”

Ben wants to be an inspiration to anyone who has doubts that they can achieve their goals, and the next step for Ben could come in Rio in 2016.
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